It is 1843 and Captain Nathaniel Sir Drinkwater embarks on the paddle-steamer Vestal for an inspection of lighthouses on the west coast of England. Bowed with age and honors, the old sea officer has been drawn from retirement on half-pay to fulfill his public duty. The following day, tragedy strikes, and Drinkwater is confronted with his past life: his sins and follies, his triumphs and his disasters. Drawing on a true incident, Richard Woodman deftly concludes the career of his sea hero. Drinkwater s complex character is revealed in its entirety. Far from being the reminiscences of an old man, the novel skillfully weaves the past with the present; the personal tensions below decks, the straining creak of a man-of-war under sail, the crack of a cannon shot and the plaintive mews of the trailing gulls are never far away. To the end, Nathaniel Drinkwater s life is full of incident and the unexpected, so typical of the sea officers of his day.